On Being Babalon

Since the days of the wife-swapping craziness that may have soured the relationship of that dynamic duo of Edward Kelly and John Dee, the goddess Babalon has been with us. Recast as the Divine Harlot Mother in the theology of Thelema, revealed on the silver screen by Kenneth Anger and inflaming the passions of Jack Parsons, Babalon is very much alive today. Her latest high profile manifestation was in the earthly form of Katie Perry at a major sporting event in the USA. Riding on her lion-like beast her modern archetype is captured by Freida Harris, using Aleister Crowley as her muse, in their collaboration The Thoth Tarot, Atu XI ‘Lust’.

Lusty Trumpette

Lusty Trumpette

I’m just starting to read Women of Babalon which looks like a really nice compilation of writings by contemporary female esoteric practitioners about The Red Goddess. Many of these are autobiographical, sometimes harrowing accounts of these women’s engagement with the Sacred Whore. What is also notable about this collection is that it addresses a question posed by Soror Nema (aka Maggie Ingalls of Maat Magick fame), ‘What happens when Babalon gets old?’.

The modern goddess Babalon (whatever her imagined mythic roots in the ancient cultures of the Middle East) has been critiqued both formally and informally in esoteric circles as being a rather one-dimensional view of woman. She appears to be all lipstick and tits and ass, quite different in tone from all those traditional goddesses of child rearing and agriculture. It’s easy to mistake Her creation as being purely the result of the hypertrophied heterosexualism of Crowley (which one can interpret as a man who wrestled with the spiritual and social difficuties caused by his penchant for being fucked by men).

Outside of the struggles of the Crowleyian psyche, modern goddesses do exist that fill much the same evolutionary mythic niche that Babalon does within the western esoteric tradition. Pomba Gira, briefly, is one of the  liminal spirits found in spiritual styles such as Umbanda and Quimbanda. As with the male liminal spirits (the Exu), Pomba Gira comes in a variety of flavours; there is the Gypsy Pomba Gira, her Rose Skull form, the form as Lady of the Seven Crossroads. There are forms of the goddess that appear as old and, importantly, as sickly or lame women. (There is also a close association between Pomba Gira and gay and transgendered sexualities.) This is in distinction to most of the modern western forms of Babalon, that typically range from barely legal teen to dark satanic MILF, generally imagined within a heteronormative context. Images and texts depicting Babalon are unashametdly erotic, and that is how it should be. Some of the ‘brass’ (in the senses of boldness, impudence and wanton laciviousness) shown in these images is perfectly in accordance with the nature of this goddess. There is undoubtedly great power in these qualities, especially when they are enjoyed by women (it is well to remember that there are plenty of places on the planet where the freedoms of women are controlled by explicit oppresive patriarchy). Examples like this video by Rihanna may be seen as powerful statements of female autonomy (and of course may also be critiqued as feminine power framed by the oppressive male-gaze).

Beastly Bowls

Beastly Bowls

The mystical qualities of Babalon as the Great Whore (expressed nicely by both Peter Grey and Alan Moore) can undoubtely be imagined as the territory of the beautiful woman, but they are also more than this.

Coming to an engagement with Babalon for me certainly acknowledges the ‘standard issue’ hot chick with a chalice, red hair, high heels and a little too much rouge. However since ‘As Above, so Below’ it also makes sense to search for those Babalonian aspects in myself as well as in the desired (typically female) other.

In context of sexual magic such practices are fairly obvious. This means exploring the role of the All Accepting Whore and typically the act of being penetrated in whatever manner one finds pleasurable. In one sense the Babalon desire is ‘feminine’ or perhaps better ‘yin’ – the drive to have all creation inside, to ride the Beast of Chaos. But the reflex of this yin-yearning is the active desire to absorb, to eat, to engulf and to press down upon the yang expressions of the universe. (Music, as ever is very helpful in assisting these adventures, some of my favourites to use when I am possessed by Babalon are drawn from the oeuvre of Mother Destruction, like this, and this, and this.)

Beginning to liberate Babalon from notions of simplistic binary gender (think Crowley bumbling around the world in his later years looking for The Scarlet Woman when frankly he’d probably have been better off with some strapping lad) is important Work for those engaged with this current.

The book Women of Babalon continues this Work, in places exploring the post-menarche Babalon and the subtle effects of menstruation on the psychology of the female practitioner (any devoted follower of Babalon will have read The Wise Wound). But by looking closely at the female body there is a sense in which some of the contributors to this volume have gone beyond the simplist ‘Mr Beast 4 Ms Babalon’ model into a proliferation of roles, genders, sexualities and states of mind.

As we explore these deities such as Babalon we are exploring ourselves, and where the limits of this thing we call ‘self’ are is open to discussion. By bringing Babalon out in her multiplicity in esoteric culture, we broaden our culture’s relationship with the symbolic attributes of the feminine. We transgress limited notions of male projection and female receptivity, expanding our awareness of this Goddess way beyond the blow-up doll of western occulture.

Babalon isn’t Barbie, She’s much greater than that!

JV

On Having a Girl’s Aura

Sometimes I get mistaken for a female, and for years have explained jokingly that this is because ‘I have a girl’s aura’.

When I was a teenager this happened fairly often. I remember once being at a David Bowie concert in London (part of his Glass Spider tour). With my hair spiked (in a homage to Aladdin Sane) and eye-liner I guess it wasn’t that surprising that the blokes sitting behind myself and my (female) partner remarked; ‘Cor look! lesbians!’ However only a few years later I found myself walking with another girl friend in Cumbria and something similar happened.  Striding up the hillside towards Grisedale Tarn (which I always imagine as the kind of body of water beneath which a Cthuloid God may well lie dreaming) we were met by a gentleman walking the other way. Despite the fact that I had short hair, no make-up, probably stubble, a men’s waxed Barbour jacket, combat trousers and boots (as did my companion) he still greeted us with a hearty ‘Good morning ladies!’

Engendering confusion

Engendering confusion

And it’s not a phenomenon limited to a western English speaking cultural context. Once when passing through airport security in India, having gone through the metal detector, I stood in front of the male security guard and lifted my arms for a pat down search. Despite being taller than the guard (I’m 5 foot 8 inches tall) and us being face-to-face (me wearing jeans, t-shirt and no make-up or other insignia usually thought of as feminine) he directed me elsewhere.  ‘Ladies to go here please!’ he remarked, indicating that I needed to be searched by the female guard (as would be appropriate were I a woman). I’ve also found these misreadings are also not age dependent; there have been numerous occasions in which I’ve overheard a child taking about ‘that lady’, meaning me.

While clearly not a banner-headline masculine type (I’m rather far from the Pipe Bear phenotype) the majority of the time these situations have arisen while I’ve been dressed in ‘traditional’ male clothing and had short hair. It’s interesting to consider these misapprehensions  in the light of the fact that I do identify as a bisexual male, who likes a spot of crossdressing, and the somewhat fay Goth style (in my defense, I did do most of my growing up in Britain during the early 1980s).  It’s also interesting to note that the misinterpreting person often ends up profusely apologising – as though mistaking me for a female is something I’d find offensive – itself a fascinating observation.

Of course there’s much one could explore about these misapprehensions. Firstly are they actually mistakes? Are those folks who ‘misunderstand’ me as a girl actually detecting some of these ‘feminine’ aspects of who I am, even when they are not being overly signaled by context, dress etc? More broadly these ‘mistakes’ make me aware of, and call into question, the relationship between genetic sex, genital identity, cultural norms and so on. The issues that this misinterpretation raises are subtle, fluid and multiple.

I guess for me I take these misinterpretations of my gender as a compliment. Generally I find women more attractive (at least visually) than men and so I’m always a little flattered by these ‘mistakes’. More generally there may well be some kind of cultural feed-back loop from my apparent ‘female side’ or social role (I often get to be ‘honorary girl/woman’ etc at various female-only events, for example Hen Parties).

As a magician I’m interested in these experiences because of the significance of the androgyny in pretty much every esoteric tradition. Whether it’s the dual form of Ardhanarishvarathe appearance of dual-sexed imagery in alchemy, or its modern re-visioning in the chimeric sexuality of Baphomet – the notion of both genders being present in one body is a central motif in many occultures.

Alchemical gender mashup

Alchemical gender mashup

I like to imagine that these misapprehensions of my apparent gender spring from what one might (in a positive sense) describe as my being ‘a bit ergi‘.  This was a term of abuse in Viking age culture and was applied to men who engaged in seiðr; practices of which we know little but many conjecture to have included magics of a dark-feminine, spiritist, sorcerous (perhaps manipulative) sort.  In some respects ergi seems to be much like the complex modern word ‘queer’. Today we might say we’re talking about ‘receptive’ qualities; the ability to listen to others/the unconscious/the spirits, and indeed to take the gods inside ourselves (with the obvious sexual imagery) in trance work and invocation. These seem like essential skills for the well-rounded magician, whatever their gender. (If you want to explore a more nuanced analysis of ergi I recommend reading Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic.)

So perhaps it is indeed my ‘girl’s aura’ that foxes people about the set of chromosomes I carry; maybe they unconsciously register the currents of my magical work (consisting as it does in large part of a chaos-Baphometic-witchcraft which, franky, is pretty ‘queer’), or maybe it’s just that I’m a lot more camp than I generally notice. And then there is the complex issue of whether camp behaviour is in any way intrinsically linked to the behaviour of women, or something else entirely…

JV